August 14

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Aug 14 - 8:11:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Postscript to the Pennsylvania Gazette (August 11, 1768).

“He has of late stamped his name on his brushes.”

John Hanna made and sold all sorts of brushes “At the corner of Chestnut and Second-streets” in Philadelphia in the late 1760s. He produced brushes intended for every sort of purpose, from “sweeping, scrubbing, hearth and white-wash brushes” to “weavers, tanners, hatters, painters and furniture brushes of all kinds.” In his advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette he emphasized price and, especially, customer satisfaction. In making an appeal to price, the brushmaker proclaimed that he “sells by wholesale or retail, as low, if not lower, than any in this city.”

He expended much more effort on convincing potential customers that they would be satisfied if they purchased their brushes from him. He began with standardized language about quality, noting that he made brushes “in the neatest and best manner.” Hanna then backed up this pronouncement by offering a return policy should any of his brushes not meet the expectations of his customers. To that end, he asserted “that if the bristles come out in any reasonable time, with fair usage, he will give new ones for nothing.” This guarantee depended in part on the honesty of customers, but it did offer some sort of recourse should any of Hanna’s brushes fall short of the quality he promised.

The return policy likely extended to consumers who obtained Hanna’s brushes from other retailers. In a nota bene he explained that he “has of late stamped his name on his brushes, so that if they should fail, people may know where to bring them to be exchanged.” This removed retailers from having to address potential complaints about customer satisfaction. Instead, they could point out Hanna’s name on the brushes at the time of sale and instruct their own customers to contact the manufacturer directly with any concerns, anticipating a policy widely adopted in the twenty-first century.

Like many other artisans and shopkeepers, Hanna pledged that “Those who are pleased to favour him with their custom, may depend on being supplied to their satisfaction.” He enhanced his advertisement, however, with a mechanism for following through on those assurances. Stamping his name on his brushes not only branded them to encourage additional sales; it also marked them as eligible for the return policy he devised to cultivate customer satisfaction.

October 18

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Oct 18 - 10:15:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 15, 1767).

“Desirous of encouraging the Manufactures of the Country.”

During the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution colonists resisted Parliamentary overreach with several non-importation and non-consumption agreements, each coinciding with particular legislative acts. The first round occurred in response to the Stamp Act, ceasing with the repeal of that hated measure. Colonists once again resorted to non-importation and non-consumption of British goods in response to the Townshend Acts, scheduled to take effect on November 20, 1767.

Throughout the last third of the eighteenth century, as colonists moved from resistance to revolution to independence, American advertisers developed marketing appeals that encouraged consumers to “Buy American.” Over time advertisers became much more explicit in their efforts linking consumption to political participation. A notice that appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette five weeks before the Townshend Acts took effect shows an early attempt. William White, a “Brush-maker from LONDON,” did not mention Parliament or the impending legislation, but readers would have made the connection on their own thanks to news items and opinion pieces elsewhere in Boston’s newspapers as well as conversations taking place throughout the city and beyond.

White encouraged potential customers to support domestic production rather than purchase imported wares. He noted that he made and sold brushes “Wholesale or Retail cheaper than can be imported,” prompting consumers to think about the origins of all the goods they acquired, not just the brushes they purchased from him. He also implicitly issued a challenge to retailers to acquire and distribute locally produced goods: presumably those who purchased brushes “Wholesale” did so with the intention of selling them in their own shops.

White framed his comments about the cost of his brushes with a statement even more overtly political. He made an appeal to colonists who were “desirous of encouraging the Manufactures of the Country” rather than continued importation of goods from England. Here he addressed colonists who could supply him with the bristles he needed to make “all Sorts of Brushes.” Not just consumers but producers as well had a duty to support local production over importation. In addition, even though White described his potential suppliers as “desirous of encouraging the Manufacturers of the Country” he implied that consumers should adopt the same attitude and opt to purchase their brushes from him.

William White did not invoke Parliament or the Townshend Acts by name in his advertisement, but contemporary politics still influenced how he structured his appeal to potential customers and how colonists interpreted his advertisement. He did not need to make his case any more explicitly because his advertisement was part of an ongoing conversation – in print and in person – among residents of Boston and throughout the colonies.